- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

While Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was in the U.S. last month to reassure his interlocutors about his pro-American bona fides, his own chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Committee, Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, said, at a public meeting, “America is the No. 1 enemy of the Muslim world and is conspiring against Muslim nations all over the world.”

As the Army Chief of Staff, Mr. Musharraf outranks Gen. Aziz Khan. Backed as he is by other Islamist generals in the army, Gen. Aziz Khan must have felt sufficiently secure to, in effect, challenge the president for his pro-American policies.

Clearly referring to his chief of army staff, Gen. Aziz Khan said politics should not be practiced while in “uniform.” Sensing Mr. Musharraf, with President Bush’s financial sweetener, is looking for a way out of the Kashmir morass, he added that even with a solution to the long-running dispute, India and Pakistan could never be friends.

Reporters were stunned by Gen. Aziz Khan’s salvo. Before the newspapers went to press, the Inter-Services Public Relations of the military sent out advisories to kill the story. Editors were reminded Gen. Aziz Khan’s position is largely ceremonial. Still, the general never would have taken on Mr. Musharraf unless convinced he had the support of some of the 10 corps commanders who control the country.

As a member of the fundamentalist Islami-e-Talaba (the youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami) in his college days, Kashmir-born Gen. Aziz Khan was known as a zealous Islamic radical. Throughout his career, he kept in close touch with militant groups outside the army while developing a wide following among junior officers. He always addressed them as “son.”

Mr. Musharraf owes his life and his job to Gen. Aziz Khan. When word spread that then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was about to replace army Chief of Staff Musharraf — who was flying back from Sri Lanka in Oct. 1999 — with a general junior to both of them, Gen. Aziz Khan, then chief of general staff, decided to mount a rebellion. He convinced the Islamabad corps commander, who, like him, had been passed over, that this would be the end of their careers. The bloodless coup that followed not only kept Mr. Musharraf in place, but also elevated him to chief executive and then president.

Following September 11, 2001, and the abrupt about-turn of Pakistan’s foreign policy, when Mr. Musharraf — “either you’re with us or against us,” Mr. Bush had told him on the phone — ditched Taliban in Afghanistan and backed the U.S. unconditionally, Gen. Aziz Khan and his following among politico-extremist groups became security risks. So Mr. Musharraf kicked him upstairs where he was neutralized. At least so Mr. Musharraf thought. He has used his ceremonial job — and loyal following among field-grade officers in the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) — to organize army opposition to Mr. Musharraf.

This demonstrates yet again that Pakistan is still a heartbeat away from becoming the world’s first Islamist nuclear power. Pakistan’s arsenal is variously estimated at between 35 and 60 nuclear weapons.

Mr. Musharraf has survived at least six assassination plots. His support for the U.S. war against terrorism is unpopular in many segments of society. Some 500 al Qaeda suspects have been arrested in Pakistan and most have been handed to the U.S., according to the government. Mr. Musharraf also put the squeeze on the army’s support for the anti-Indian guerrillas in Kashmir. For Pakistan, they’re “freedom fighters”; for the Islamist clergy, “jihadis (holy warriors); and for India, “terrorists.”

Fact is many of them are terrorists who were trained in al Qaeda’s Afghan camps. They switched to the Kashmir front after Taliban’s defeat in November 2001. ISI organized their transfer from Afghanistan to Kashmir.

Kashmir is the Pakistan army’s principal raison d’etre, as a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. put it. “Demonstrate that your support for the liberation of Kashmir is waning, and you automatically curry disfavor among senior officers,” the ex-envoy explained. And Mr. Musharraf has done just that. Infiltrations from Pakistan-held Kashmir into the Indian side continue, but are much reduced.

Mr. Musharraf also is preparing his public opinion for Pakistan’s recognition of Israel if the Bush peace plan becomes reality. “If Arab nations can recognize Israel, why not Pakistan?” he asked. By acquiescing to U.S. wishes and sending troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for the first time since independence half a century ago, where they are not allowed to go by treaty commitment, Mr. Musharraf triggered much grumbling in the ranks.

Some tribal leaders in FATA-land have told government troops to butt out. They like Taliban and admire al Qaeda. The recent sectarian carnage in a Shi’ite mosque in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, killed 50 and wounded more than 300, and was immediately exploited by another redoubtable Musharraf opponent. In a July 9 interview with Nawa-e-Waqt, an Urdu daily, retired Gen. Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief and now “strategic adviser” to politico-religious leaders, said: “America is directly involved in all terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the Quetta bloodbath.”

Gen. Gul’s calcinatory rhetoric accused the U.S., India and Israel — the three archvillains in the Islamist lexicon — of establishing “more than 20 base camps in Afghanistan from where these powers foment civil unrest in Pakistan. Their aim is to crush jihad.”

MMA — the extremist coalition that governs the Northwest Frontier Province, shares power in Baluchistan, and has 20 percent of the seats in the federal assembly — is staging countrywide demos to protest Mr. Musharraf’s legal challenge to disqualify national and regional assembly members who do not have the required bachelor’s degree. The government contends degrees awarded by madrassas (Koranic schools where religion is the only discipline taught) do not meet the same standards.

If the Supreme Court rules against MMA, religious extremists will lose control of the regional government in NWFP, and mob violence will return with a vengeance. And if the court rules against Mr. Musharraf, Muslim extremism will consolidate its power along the entire length of the Afghan frontier and enforce the recently introduced Sharia (Islamic law) in NWFP.

For the general with the ceremonial position of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, it’s heads his Islamist cronies win, tails Mr. Musharraf loses. The Pakistani president’s fight to stay in power does not necessarily conjugate with America’s war on terror. Broken so many times in the past, no one trusts U.S. pledges and promises. Mr. Musharraf can still dissolve parliament and declare martial law or call new elections.

The billing and cooing between the two presidents at the Camp David Summit in June is already a faint warble in July.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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